What’s the point of life? What’s the point of showing up, to work, to pour ourselves out on this hard life? What’s the point of relationships? Or trying to do good? What’s the point of wisdom in this life? The Bible has an answer to these questions in the book of Ecclesiastes. However, the answers probably aren’t what you would expect.
The voice of the book is “Q” (Qohelet in Hebrew- Or the “Preacher” or “teacher” in English. We’ll call him “Q”. It’s much easier.) Q will eventually conclude that meaning can be found in the meaningless by fearing God and keeping his commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). But, his quest toward that conclusion is twisting and winding through the “vanities” of life. In this post, we’ll cover some of the highs and lows of Q’s quest as he journeys toward an answer to “what is the point of life and wisdom?” While Q covers a lot of different topics related to meaning, we’ll be focusing on the true meaning of wisdom in this Ecclesiastes bible study.
Finding the Meaning of Life in the Meaningless (A Hard truth)
Right at the beginning of this book, Q makes his depressing point that all life is “vanity” or “meaningless.” The Hebrew word used here is “hevel”, which means smoke or vapor, or something that is an enigma. Our lives are temporary and we may seek to find the purpose and meaning to our lives for years and still find that it slips through our fingers as smoke cannot be held onto. We often are wondering “why did this happen to me?” “How do I find true enjoyment in life?” “What is my purpose?” “WHAT’S THE POINT?” There is a lingering feeling in all of us that life just doesn’t work out the way we want it to.
Prayerfully consider: What are some of the big life questions that I am currently wrestling with? Hopefully, this post will help you answer this question by the end.
What does a man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:3 ESV) is the question that frames the rest of the book. Q wants to know, “what am I worth?”, and what follows isn’t very encouraging. He basically says that the world keeps turning: the sun rises and sets, the water flows through the earth, and people come and go. Yet this question is what we are all asking, we work and we generate wealth/status/beauty/fame, all in the quest to figure out what we are worth. There are calculators online that can tell you your net worth based on the things you own and your education. Ultimately, all of these things let us down because they are only temporary. At some point, we all die and all of it goes away. That’s not a cheerful thought! (Stick with us… there is hope coming!)
The only one who is able to give lasting worth is God Himself. But, for now, this is outside of Q’s consideration because he is only looking at life “under the sun.” This repeated phrase will come up again and again. Remember, as you read, Q’s limited perspective of this temporal world.
The Result of All hardships in Life
According to Q, weariness is the result of all our toil in life. We get up at the same time each day, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch TV and go to bed. Only to get up again the next day and do it all again! We finish the laundry only to have to start it all over again! The grass needs cut…again. The bills need to be paid…again. We run on the treadmill of life and then wake up one day to find that we haven’t really gone anywhere. And yet, we are so tired. We need something to cut through the meaninglessness and give us hope and a desire for the future… but what? There’s got to be something new out there to discover that will satisfy us…right? Not exactly.
There’s Nothing New Under the Sun
We all often pretend that there is something new to help snap us out of the weariness that we all experience in life “under the sun.” A new diet, a new self-help book, a new job, a new relationship, a new gadget, a new toy, etc. The reality is that it’s not really new. Fashion trends go in circles, coming back into popularity about every 20-50 years. New relationships that promise to be different from the old ones end up having the same problems because relationships are hard! Because people (including you and me) are imperfect! We are groaning with all of creation for something more. What we long for is not something new. We long for something that is lasting and true.
Does wisdom have meaning in life?
The first stop on Q’s quest is wisdom. The book of Proverbs encourages us that seeking out wisdom will help us to succeed in life. Yet Q finds that earthly wisdom doesn’t satisfy. Similarly, Eve took the fruit in the garden of Eden because it looked like it would make one wise. Both Eve and Q were both disappointed and found that all wisdom and knowledge in this world doesn’t bring satisfaction.
We can learn about anything we want to in our world today and get many degrees that say we are experts in that thing, but that doesn’t guarantee us a good life. Often, we know what is right, yet we find ourselves doing what is wrong instead. Or if we do what is right, there are things outside of our control that send us down a path we would not have chosen. Q leaves us in a tension of knowing something about this world just isn’t right. And so, his journey toward understanding and meaning will continue…
Free Resource: A Visual Summary of Ecclesiastes and the true meaning of life
Can Wisdom Understand the Times and Seasons?
The second of the 3 stops on Q’s quest for wisdom deals with the assumption that wisdom can understand the times and seasons. In some sense, it can. Through wisdom, we can anticipate some of the changes in seasons and know generally what it will mean for our lives. For example, with spring comes rain and flowers and warmer weather and a time to plant crops. However, wisdom can’t anticipate a late-season frost that kills the crops, or some other natural disaster. Similarly, neither the wise nor the foolish can anticipate a time of illness or mourning. Oftentimes, these things catch us by surprise and send us reeling. We grasp for something to hold onto. Q begins to hint at his ultimate conclusion, God is truly the only one who knows all the times and seasons and we can rely on Him alone when things happen that we don’t expect.
Surely a Wise Man Will Be Remembered
The third stop on Q’s quest for wisdom examines the assumption that surely a wise man will be remembered for the great things he or she has done. For a time, this is true, we remember the things that happened in the recent past and how they impacted us. But, we are forgetful people. We forget the good and the bad things that happened unless we create a way to remember them.
This is why we have to study history in school. There are so many things that happened in the past that we would have no idea about if it wasn’t written down in history books. There are even more wise and impactful people who aren’t in those books and their lives have been forgotten about. Q gives an example of a poor wise man who saves the city, but is forgotten. We also see this with the Israelites in Egypt. Joseph saved Egypt and the Israelites during a severe famine, but his service to the Pharaoh is forgotten and the Israelites are reduced to slaves. There is no guarantee that a wise person will be remembered for the impact they made on the world.
The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom
The true conclusion to this search for wisdom is that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Jesus is the one prophesied about in Isaiah who has the Spirit of wisdom and understanding. It is through knowing Him that we can discern how to live our lives with purpose and meaning. We have the Spirit of Jesus in us so that we can experience his wisdom and live to give God the toil and fruits of our lives. As we pursue knowing God and His wisdom, He will meet us there and guide us along the way. Things still won’t always be wonderful, because we live in a broken world, but we have access to the One who has the power to carry us through it all and keep us for eternity.
A Spark of Hope: There is Meaning in Wisdom (and life)
To read Ecclesiastes is to wonder sometimes if Q has any hope! But, remember, Q’s perspective is “under the sun” or on this earth. He lived and wrote before God became flesh and came to live among us. As followers of God living under the new covenant, we know that Jesus is the one who gives our lives purpose and meaning. He has died for us so that we can find enjoyment and hope in life. He encourages us to find treasures in heaven instead of on earth. He wants us to come to him with our burdens and weariness confident that He will give our souls rest. And He has given us the Holy Spirit so that we can come to Him even when we don’t quite know how or what to say. Jesus can handle the hard things of life and He is inviting you to come to Him.
What’s the true meaning of wisdom and life? A deeper dive…
In this post, we took a deeper look into Q’s observations and discoveries about the real meaning of wisdom in this life. And as mentioned earlier, Ecclesiastes reveals that there is really no meaning in this world. Everything from wisdom to money, to your career… it’s all just a vapor. This is why we must turn to Jesus who is the only way to everything we need, including our purpose and meaning which is found in Jesus and our eternal life in Heaven.
If you’re interested in getting a deeper understanding of Q’s journey to a meaningful life, the Bible itself is the best place to go! We recommend reading Ecclesiastes to get a full understanding of the book. You can even follow along with our YouVersion bible plan to help walk you through the book.
Pray with us: Thank God for inspiring the author of Ecclesiastes and for including this raw book full of hard questions in the Bible. Share your hard questions with God!
We managed to boil all of Ecclesiastes down to a one-page visual overview to help you remember the main point of Ecclesiastes for days, months, and years to come. Click here to download our free one-page visual overview of Ecclesiastes.